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Al-Ya'qubi

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Personal Information
Full Name Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub Ishaq b. Ja'far b. Wahb b. Wadih
Kunya Ibn Abi Ya'qub, Ibn Wadih and Abu al-Abbas
Epithet Al-Ya'qubi
Religious Affiliation Imamiyya
Death 284/897 or 292/904-5
Scholarly Information
Works Tarikh al-Ya'qubi, Al-Buldan and Mushakilat al-Nas li zamanihim
Socio-Political Activities
Socio-Political
Activities
He was a writer in Abbasid caliphate

Aḥmad b. Abī Yaʿqūb (Arabic: أحمد بن ابي یعقوب; d. 284/897 or 292/904-5) known as al-Yaʿqūbī (Arabic: اليعقوبي) was a historian and geographer in the third/ninth century. He has written Tarikh al-Ya'qubi, al-Buldan and Mushakilat al-nas li zamanihim. Regarding the content of Tarikh al-Ya'qubi and the style and analyses he applied in describing historical events, it is clear he had tendencies toward Shi'ism. Although his children were participating in Abbasid administrations, they had tendencies toward Shi'ism as well.

Biography

Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub Ishaq b. Ja'far b. Wahb b. Wadih is titled as Isfahani in a number of sources which indicated the originality of Ahmad was from Isfahan. Also as Ahmad and his ancestors lived in Egypt for a long time, he was titled as Misri (from Egypt). Al-Ya'qubi was also titled as Katib (writer), Abbasi and Akhbari in some sources. Ibn Abi Ya'qub and Ibn Wadih are the kunyas of him as well.

Information on the time and place of birth of al-Ya'qubi are not undoubted. The majority of researchers stated that al-Ya'qubi was most probably born in Baghdad. In his work al-Buldan, al-Ya'qubi clearly shows his interests in Baghdad which enhances the probability of the previous statement. However some believe that he was not born in Baghdad and they make the assumption that al-Ya'qubi family moved to Egypt years before Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub was born, due to his ancestor's job and they never returned to Baghdad. He passed away in 284/897 or 292/904-5.

Shi'ism in al-Ya'qubi Family

Wadih (Arabic: واضح), ancestor of al-Ya'qubi was a relative and a mawali of al-Mansur, the Abbasid caliph. Wadih was such a notable man in Baghdad so that a street was named after him. Based on a number of narrations, he was in charge of administration of a part of city called Qati'a al-Wadih. He was appointed as the governor of Egypt in 162/778-9 which he was forced to leave. Later he was appointed as the chief of Burayd administration.

Wadih had tendencies toward Shi'ism. He supported Alavis uprising in 169/785-6 which angered the Abbasid caliph. When the Uprising of Fakhkh failed, Idris b. 'Abd Allah b. Hasan b. 'Ali b. Abi Talib fled to Egypt and saved his life; Wadih was the chief of administration of Burayd in that time. He supported Idris and sent him to Maghreb. Later he managed to establish Idrisid dynasty in northern region of Africa. It was the main reason that Wadih was punished by Abbasid caliph, he was beheaded in 169/785-6 and his body was hanged afterwards.

Occupation

Based on available information, all aspects of al-Ya'qubi's life cannot be described. Regarding the title of al-Ya'qubi's family, al-Katib, it is assumed that he was a writer in Abbasid caliphate, but it is not clear how long he occupied the job. Also it is not clear how long he stayed in Baghdad. It is identified that al-Ya'qubi traveled a lot in his young ages in Islamic territories especially in Khorasan, India, Egypt and Maghreb. According to a number of narrations, he stayed in Armenia for a long time, where he became the writer of Sultans. In another narration, he served Tahirid as well. They were part of Abbasid government as they administered Abbasid province of Khorasan. Although they remained subject to Abbasid caliphate, they were enjoying a degree of autonomy. Subsequently it is possible al-Ya'qubi was serving Tahirid in Baghdad or Khorasan.

Works

Al-Ya'qubi was a grand geographer and historian. He was a master in astronomy and poetry. The important works attributed to him are:

  • Al-Tarikh
  • Al-Buldan
  • Mushakilat al-Nas li zamanihim
  • Al-Masalik wa al-mamalik
  • Fath Ifriqiya wa akhbariha
  • Akhbar al-tahirin
  • Akhbar al-umam al-salifa
  • Akhbar bilad Rom

Tarikh al-Ya'qubi

Tarikh al-Ya'qubi
Main article: Tarikh al-Ya'qubi

Tarikh al-Ya'qubi is among the first works of world's history in Islamic historiography. Its first part is dedicated to history of world until the appearance of Islam, the second part is dedicated to history of Islam from bi'that to caliphate of al-Muhtadi the Abbasid caliph (255/869 - 256/870). This book is not arranged in chronological order, but it is arranged according to historical periods and events. Tarikh al-Ya'qubi is among the first books which applied mixed methods in Islamic historiography, in which the author has mixed content of different historical narrations of one subject arranged by his own willing; he did not cite the evidences of narrations as well. This method is opposite the validity approach. The evolution of Islamic historiography started with works such as Tarikh al-Ya'qubi and Akhbar al-tiwal.

Al-Ya'qubi has applied logical approach in his critical historical narrations. It is presented specially in his rejection of magical and mystical narrations which were commonly widespread in his time. In his book, al-Ya'qubi considered cultural and social aspects equally important to political affairs. In the first volume of the book, al-Ya'qubi explained scientific and cultural works of every nation along with the history of them. He also described beliefs and religions of them.

Al-Buldan

Al-Buldan

Al-Buldan was the main source of geography of Islamic world in the 3rd/9th century. Al-Ya'qubi wrote this book in the last years of his life, around 278/891-2 In Al-Buldan, the author briefly described the cities, counties and regions along with their rulers, people and tribes living there. He also described the roads which guided travelers. Al-Ya'qubi applied logical method and did not use any mystical narrations. He applied observation method, in describing places. Regarding historical geography, demography, ethnography, people's costumes, economic and commercial geography and agriculture of different regions are the main valuable features of geographical works of al-Ya'qubi.

Mushakila al-Nas li Zamanihim

Mushakila al-Nas li Zamanihim

Mushakila al-nas li zamanihim was a treatise by al-Ya'qubi in which he briefly explained behavior and manners of caliphs. The importance of this book is because of sociological attitude of al-Ya'qubi. He presented the theory of resemblance of people to caliphs, based on which lifestyle of people in every historical period is adjusted to lifestyle of caliph or the king of the time. After introducing the resemblance theory, al-Ya'qubi mentioned a number of historical evidences to support it. He cited the names of thirty one caliphs and mentioned their main manners and behavior. Then he explained the resemblance of people to caliphs. He also mentioned some people who were behaving similar to caliph.

Shi'ism of al-Ya'qubi

As stated before, al-Ya'qubi family had tendencies toward Shi'ism, moreover there are signs in Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub's works proving the fact that he had trends towards Shi'ism. A large number of historians considered Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub as a Shi'ite Muslim. Here are the reasons proving al-Ya'qubi's tendency toward Shi'ism:

  • Explaining the history of Shi'ite Muslims and lifestyle of Shi'ite Imams (a) by him;
  • Having respect and fondness towards Shi'ite Imams (a) in his works;
  • Narrating a large number of hadiths on virtues of Imam 'Ali (a);
  • Narrating al-Ghadir Hadith and Hadith al-Thaqalayn as well as reporting the event of Saqifa with Shi'ite tendencies and favoring caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a).

Supporting Alavis' Uprisings

Explaining the majority of Shi'ite's Imams' life in a way that is acceptable by Shi'ite Muslims is an evidence proving the hypothesis that al-Ya'qubi was a Twelver Shi'ite Muslim. However, his tendencies towards Shi'ism should not be considered equal to evolved faith of Shi'ites in next centuries. It must be regarded that al-Ya'qubi associated with Abbasid caliphs and he paid attention to the way he should have prepared his historical reports. Therefore, there are a number of narrations of him, which are not according to acceptable Shi'ite beliefs. For example: Although he mentioned that Imam al-Kazim (a) was imprisoned, he did not mention that he was martyred by the order of Harun al-Rashid or the martyrdom of Imam al-Rida (a) by the order of al-Ma'mun; he also praised Abbasid caliphate.

References